On Amazon UK
How I discovered this book: it was one I had been waiting for, as with all books by Gemma Lawrence!
Genre: Tudor historical fiction
'If this is Katherine's dusk, I would have everyone know it is my dawn'.
Having just finished this long book in forty-eight hours, I wonder if Gemma Lawrence knows Anne Boleyn better than anyone else who has ever written about her ~ not the facts (though this book is intricately detailed), but the understanding of the woman herself.
This fourth book in the series covers the period when the Great Matter is finally resolved (as much as it can be), when Anne becomes Queen, gives birth to Elizabeth and becomes pregnant for a second time; at the end, I wanted, as ever, to stand with a whip over the writing desk of Ms Lawrence and demand she write the next one now, and not sleep until it is done.
The beginning of the book sees the continuation of Anne and Henry's battles with Katherine and Spanish ambassador Chapuys, the Pope and all those who oppose them. I was glad to see old rumours dispelled, such as Anne orchestrating the plot to poison Bishop Fisher, but she is not painted only in glowing colours. Lawrence's Boleyn is far too intelligent, self-aware and analytical not to see that her frustration causes her to act in ways she regrets; indeed, she shows unseemly pride in flaunting the ermine-trimmed gowns of purple given to her by Henry (both ermine and the colour purple were to be worn only by royalty) and is sometimes spiteful, but one can hardly blame her if she sought to soil the reputation of, for instance, the King's great friend Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, who was very much against her.
'Did I stop to consider that I was spreading the same evil that had once hurt me? I did not ... I should not have lowered myself. Katherine would never have done as I did.'
Here, she is too harsh on herself. Since she first won Henry's love she has had to hold her head up high in front of all who would see her downfall, until she becomes 'as used to (the tales of her wickedness) as a crumbling dotard may become to gout'.
Gemma Lawrence puts myths and Hollywoodised images about other players to bed, too; Katherine was ridiculously stubborn, and hurt her own daughter in refusing to stand down; she also hurt the very man she claimed to love so much, and the good of the realm. Then there is Thomas More ~ the reality of this 'man of God' who tortured and burned to death those whose beliefs didn't coincide with his, couldn't be further from the kindly uncle-like figure played by Jeremy Northam in Showtime's The Tudors.
There is more to this book than courtly intrigue, of course. I loved the images of the countryside of long ago: 'We rode out through glorious, crisp mornings and heard corncrakes cawing in the fields... tall oaks, elms and yews seemed to bow as our horses clopped under them ... merlins flew over moor land, chasing meadow pipits across the gorse-covered hills.' There is much to be learned about how the Church of England was born, about rituals of christening and coronations ~ and amusing snippets showing how little the people of the 16th century knew about the human body: 'The baby is drawing on your blood to help him grow, my lady. That is why women's courses cease when they are with child'.
We also learn the good about Henry, and why he is still the most famous and written-about of all the kings of England. He was not just a tyrant ~ he built up the navy to greatness, and had a way of talking to the common man as if they were friends of his, not lesser mortals, which made him so loved by his people.
In everything I've read and watched about Anne and Henry, it seems that she had begun to lose his heart even before she failed to give him a son, for which she met her death. I believe it is simply that he was so indulged that if someone wasn't shiny, new and exciting, it no longer held his absolute attention. Anne is probably the most famous woman to give truth to the quote (most commonly attributed to financier James Goldsmith) 'when a man marries his mistress, he creates a vacancy'. As soon as she is pregnant with Elizabeth, she begins to hear rumours of his other women.
'Now that I was his wife and Queen, I was vulnerable. Before, when I had ruled him as a mistress, I had held the power. Now, he was my master.'
Anne discovers that theirs is not this grand passion that can weather all storms, after all. She loses her own strength, which she hates: 'It is so easy to forget ills when one is offered love again. When a heart has known love once, it will do anything to keep it.'
This was the part of the book that really earned its 5 GOLD stars, a personal rating I don't give that often (it's one better than 5 stars!), not just for Anne's pain when she begins to see Henry through new eyes, but her love for her daughter, which is heartbreaking. I loved my daughter more than life, more than faith, more than Henry. If I could have held her forever and never let her go, I would have done so. There was nothing more important than her.
Anne feels sympathy for Katherine as Elizabeth is taken from her to reside in her own household (as is normal for royal children); she comes to feel many parallels with Katherine over the following months. Most sad, though, is that she does not see the two people who will bring about her downfall: the two Janes, Boleyn and Seymour.
This book left me wondering two things: if Katherine had stepped down, while Henry was still in his prime, might Anne have borne those sons and saved herself? And then I wondered if Anne's life might have been so much happier if she had married, for instance, Thomas Wyatt, and lived the life of a lady of great learning and teaching, who could have given so much to others of similar mindset; a bit like a more attractive and charismatic Margaret Beaufort, perhaps!
Gemma Lawrence never fails to write about her subjects as no one else has. This is, as I have said before, the only series about Anne Boleyn you need to read.